Making history, giving inspiration
On Aug. 2, 1992, the wrestling world witnessed something it had never seen before: the crowning of the first African-American World Heavyweight Champion, Ron Simmons.
This week marks the anniversary of that historic event. WWE.com caught up with the former champion to get his thoughts on that incredible experience and WWE's current World Heavyweight Champion, King Booker.
"Oh god! Trying to find the correct words," Simmons said struggling to express what that night was like. "I still haven't been able to (say) just exactly how that felt. The elation, the emotions, the hard work and determination - the willingness to give everything that I put forth in this business. And then to finally (win the championship), it was just surreal. It was like a dream and it still is. Of course also being the first African-American, that was just something that I don't think I will ever be able to surpass in a way. I'm just very honored that I had the opportunity to do that, to try to (break) ground for others."
Interestingly, Simmons' opportunity against then-champion Vader was a surprise. In a last minute schedule change, Vader was left without an opponent and Simmons' name was pulled from a hat to compete that night.
"My name was pulled and thank goodness I was prepared for when that opportunity did present itself," laughed Simmons. "Vader's a big, powerful guy, so my skills had to be at their peak levels. And I'm just very thankful that they were." He also credited the adrenaline and the excitement of the night on seeing him through.
Simmons is an accomplished athlete outside the ring as well, having been a Heisman Trophy candidate and an All-American defensive nose guard for Florida State University. But winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship is right up there.
"Being champion in professional wrestling - that's it. The only thing you can do is just keep repeating it… That's the only way you can even come close to it, but the first time is always the best."
Fast forward 14 years to today where history is being made again as King Booker is the first royal African-American to be World Heavyweight Champion. Simmons has been keeping his eye on the King for years.
"I'm very proud of him. I remember when he first started when he was asking me for advice on how to even get into this business. He's come a long way, and he's deserving of it."
Simmons tried to pass on some of the learning and encouragement he got from his mentors.
"It doesn't matter if they're white, black, Asian - someone has to open the doors or give inspiration. So through what I've achieved, I hope I've touched someone to give them just that much more encouragement if they're considering doing this and not only (wrestling), but in anything."
Simmons thinks King Booker is doing a good job as champ and offers his expertise on what one should be.
"When you are (champ), it's just carrying yourself as a champion and being an inspiration for kids who look up to you. It's never wanting to turn someone down to talk to you about how they watch you and they're a big fan of yours. It's never turning anyone away for an autograph. That's what that means. You're a champion of people always."
You can watch King Booker in action on SmackDown. Click here for full SmackDown coverage.